Update: In the final version of the letter sent to President Obama, 168 members from the House of Representatives and 52 senators signed their names, according to a staff member of the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus.
Nearly every Democratic member of the Senate and 148 Democratic members of the House of Representatives urged President Barack Obama to sign an executive order prohibiting federal contractors from LGBT workplace discrimination in a letter sent Tuesday.
With the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) having hit a wall in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives after passage in the Senate last year, members of the House and Senate called on Obama “to act now to prevent irrational, taxpayer-funded workplace discrimination against LGBT Americans.”
“We are committed to doing all that we can in Congress to get ENDA to your desk this year; however, there is no reason you cannot immediately act by taking this important step,” the letter states. “This executive order would provide LGBT people with another avenue in the federal government they could turn to if they were the victim of employment discrimination by a federal contractor. When combined with ENDA, these non-discrimination protections would parallel those that have been in place for decades on the basis of race, sex and religion.”
Although Obama promised to sign such an executive order as a candidate for president in 2008, the White House has backpedaled on that promise and has repeatedly said the administration supports passage of ENDA rather than an executive order. ENDA supporters and LGBT-rights groups are largely united in supporting both. First signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson, Executive Order 11246 has been expanded by a number of presidents to prohibit federal contractors from discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex and national origin. However, protections for sexual orientation and gender identity remain absent.
Ten additional Senate Democrats signed the letter than did a similar letter sent last year, upping the number of Senate signees to 47. Democratic Sens. Michael Bennet, Maria Cantwell, Heidi Heitkamp, Joe Manchin, Mark Pryor and John Walsh did not sign the letter. In the House, all but 51 Democratic members signed the letter — raising the number of signees from 110 last year to 148 this year. There is additional support among leadership as well, with Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer, Assistant Democratic Leader James Clyburn, and Democratic Caucus Vice-Chair Joe Crowley signing on. Although Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi are absent, they generally do not sign such letters.
No Republicans signed the letter in the House or Senate.
The effort was led by Sen. Jeff Merkley and Rep. Jared Polis, along with Sens. Tom Harkin and Tammy Baldwin and Reps. Mike Michaud, David Cicilline, Sean Patrick Maloney, Mark Pocan, Kristen Sinema, Mark Takano, Frank Pallone, Lois Capps, Diana DeGette, Joe Garcia, Raul Grijalva, Mike Honda, Barbara Lee, Jerry Nadler and Adam Schiff.
[Photo: Barack Obama. Credit: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza.]